Now Hear This: an Interview with Shields Bray, piano

You may know Shields Bray as principal keyboard of the Forth Worth Symphony Orchestra (he’s held the position since 1986) and as host of the FWSO pre-concert discussion series (since 1993). Get to know him this Sunday, July 30, as a critical piece of the chamber music ensemble for our final Basically Beethoven Festival concert “Americana!”


Bray, Buddy 2017 bwWhat piece on the program are you most excited about? What should audience members listen for? They’re all such beauties, but I’m especially attached to Jennifer Higdon’s Piano Trio. It appeals to musicians because it’s so well-written, and to audiences because it communicates so directly. That’s true of all her work. The Bernstein clarinet sonata is perfect in front of the trio: it’s one of his earliest pieces, and one of his most appealing. He knew the character of instruments, and how to bring that character forth. Copland was one of Bernstein’s mentors, so I like having that connection in the program. Appalachian Spring is, of course, one of the great achievements in American music. It started life as a ballet for Martha Graham, and it really has never been out of the mainstream since. 

As a pianist, what do you love about chamber music? How is it different from playing in a large symphony or solo? Learning to play the piano is such a solitary pursuit, and pianists don’t generally have large-ensemble experience when we’re young. It’s why I love playing with instrumentalists and singers. I love that shared experience. It’s also why, after 30 years, I still really love orchestral playing. I like being part of a bigger effort.

How old were you when you started playing piano? Why did you choose it? Did you learn other instruments? I was 8 when I started, which is about four years late, really. I think it chose me. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.

What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now? I listened to top 40 until midway through high school, and then I suddenly didn’t listen to the radio anymore. Now I do, but to NPR. For music, I listen to singers, mostly. There’s something about the human voice – the immediacy of it, the warmth.

You are based in Fort Worth. What would surprise out-of-towners about Fort Worth? I love Fort Worth. I love that, as a city, it gets behind its arts and stays behind them. I love that Forth Worth has a feeling for its history, too. 

It’s not unusual to hear of humorous stereotypes for certain musicians and their instruments in an orchestra. What’s a typical pianist like? I wonder if there IS a typical pianist! We do practice an awful lot, and most pianists talk about pianos and what goes on under the hood. 

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? To listen to: Mozart. That’s perfection. I played him a lot when I was young, and I hope I’ll get back to him when I’m 70 or so. He’s a lot to live up to. For the past 15 years or so, I’ve jumped at every chance to play Messiaen. He’s a real original, and I’m fascinated by him.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? My favorite sound is the ocean. My least favorite sounds are sirens of all kinds.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? I want to hear Mozart play the piano!


Now Hear This: an Interview with Stephen Nielson, piano

Steinway artist Stephen Nielson headlines Sunday’s Basically Beethoven Festival concert, “Stephen Nielson & Friends,” on July 23. He’ll share the stage with violinist Motoi Takeda, the Associate Concertmaster Emeritus for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and with Caroline Nielson. Ms. Nielson is not only an accomplished mezzo-soprano in her own right – she happens to be Mr. Nielson’s daughter! Continue reading to learn about Sunday’s performance and to get to know Mr. Nielson.


Nielson, Stephen pianoWhat piece on the program are you most excited about? The entire program! It is a special treat for me to be on the same concert stage in Dallas with my daughter, Caroline. We’ve purposed to provide the audience with the treat of music for violin/voice/piano, violin/piano, voice/violin, voice/piano – mixing it up, for sure!

As a pianist, what do you love about chamber music? The interaction of the players in an intimate setting; discerning a composer’s weaving of thematic material between the instruments.

How old were you when you started playing piano? As I often say: about nine months before I was born, since my mother was a pianist, church musician, and teacher. I demonstrated an early affinity for the piano and never considered other instruments simply because commitment to serious piano study was so consuming.

What type of music did you listen to as a child, and what do you listen to now? What type of music did you share with your children when they were growing up? Always classical. On Sunday mornings my father played recordings – LPs, you know! – of the legendary organist E. Power Biggs and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Musical education for our two daughters was in place from the beginning. I took our older daughter, Christiana, to her first opera at age 6 – the Dallas Opera’s presentation of Hansel and Gretel.

You have been based in Dallas for most of your career. What would surprise out-of-towners about the Dallas area? What’s your “hidden gem” in Dallas? Except for undergraduate and graduate years at Indiana University School of Music and then seven years as Artist-in-Residence at a college in the Chicago area, Dallas has been my “home base.” Out-of-towners are frequently surprised by the richness of the musical offerings and activity in the North Texas area. Hidden gems? Marvelous people and relationships plus fantastic food possibilities forever changing!

It’s not unusual to hear of humorous stereotypes for certain musicians and their instruments. What would you say a typical pianist like? There is no typical pianist, I think. Though as a Steinway Artist I play Steinways often, sometimes in out-of-the-way locales that is not possible, and I must adapt to what the sponsor provides. In piano circles, such a piano is sometimes cynically referred to as a “P.S.O.” – piano shaped object. I’ve played my share of those!

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? Difficult to answer on both counts! I like the composer whose music I am preparing for the next concert. I’m probably a romanticist at heart, but am overwhelmed by the mathematical brilliance and symmetry of Bach, the depth of Brahms, and the color of the great Impressionists, Debussy and Ravel. I also love the great choral masterpieces of Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Berlioz, Mahler, Fauré and Duruflé.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? Favorite is the sound of Caroline’s voice! Least favorite – the yard crew mowing and blowing just outside my studio windows when I’m practicing or teaching.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? Hands down –  “Worthy Is the Lamb” from Handel’s Messiah.


Now Hear This: an Interview with Joseph Kuipers, cello

Based in Richardson, cellist Joseph Kuipers is an in-demand international performer, hitting stages in Quebec, Germany, Italy, and closer to home. He joins several other local musicians on the Basically Beethoven Festival concert on July 16, “A Spirited Afternoon.” Read below to get to know Mr. Kuipers, and click HERE to watch performance clips.


2017-07-16 Joseph Kuipers promo shotWhat piece on the program are you most excited about? What should audience members listen for? I must say Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence – the melodies are truly gorgeous, almost embarrassingly beautiful!

As a cellist, what do you love about chamber music? How is it different from playing in a large symphony or solo? I like to view all music as chamber music – meaning an interaction between musicians! When I play a Bach solo, I see myself as playing trios between the voices all on my cello. In orchestra, I try to breathe and move with the other musicians on stage. That said, in chamber music the cello plays a role of being an individual, yet the foundation of the group with our occasional singing solos grabbing the spotlight.

Why did you choose the cello? The sound, of course! There is something so human about the sound of the cello. The range encompasses the rich, dark tones of a bass, through the sensuous tenor and alto range, up to the soaring heights of a soprano. Although, I must admit, my earliest memory of the cello is an old black and white photograph of my grandfather Percival Harding with his cello, and its appearance simply attracted me. I just felt drawn to it, and still have an immediate closeness to everything about the cello.

What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now? I grew up in a religious family, so much of the music were the great old Protestant hymns of the Reformation. That certainly influenced me to be drawn to the pure, early music of Bach, and Gibbons. Later as I studied composition, I went through phases of being obsessed with radically different composers and styles of music. Now I listen to music that makes me feel – music that gives me a heartbeat! From Ivry Gitlis playing Tchaikovsky to Johnny Cash

How long have you lived and performed in Dallas? What would surprise out-of-towners about Dallas? I’ve been based in Dallas since 2012. The cultural scene in Dallas is exploding and draws some of the most brilliant artists of our time!

It’s not unusual to hear of humorous stereotypes for certain musicians and their instruments in an orchestra. What’s a typical cellist like? We love beautiful melodies, singing out the sound, and enjoying every note. We also love to socialize and sometimes this is not a good fit for diligent practicing.

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? Who/whatever I am playing at the moment.

What’s your favorite sound? Least favorite? Favorite sound would be the harmony of human voices, least favorite is complaining.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? I have an imagination of the sound of Archangels singing like the Elves from the “Lord of the Rings” in some otherworldly language, tonality, and sound … where the sound becomes almost visible. That would be my hope to hear!

 


Now Hear This: an Interview with Chloé Trevor, violin

Chloé Trevor travels the world as a solo violinist, and lives her life as an ambassador for the instrument, particularly to young audiences and members of her generation. Ms. Trevor will be joined on stage by pianist Jonathan Tsay for the July 9 Feature Presentation, “Dances & Romances,” opening the 2017 Basically Beethoven Festival. Read below to get to know the artist, and click HERE to sample some audio clips of Ms. Trevor.


 

Trevor, Chloe 2017 (violin)What piece on the program are you most excited about? What should audience members listen for? I’m most excited for Prokofiev’s four pieces from Romeo and Juliet. Prokofiev is one of my all-time favorite composers and this piece embodies a lot of my favorite musical characteristics of his. There’s a lot of intensity and sardonic wit alongside extremely elegant and heart-rendering melodies. I hope the audience members can pick out different characters from the story as we go through the movements.

As a violinist, what do you love about chamber music? How is it different from playing in a large symphony or solo? I love playing chamber music because to me it feels like a combination of playing in a symphony and playing as a soloist at the same time. You can’t quite get that feeling doing anything else — it’s really special, especially when you get to play alongside some of your closest friends.

How old were you when you started playing violin? Why did you choose it? Did you learn other instruments? I started playing the violin when I was 2. My parents saw me reaching for my mom’s violin when she would practice and so they eventually found a tiny — but real! — violin for me to play. My mom was my first teacher for the first few years of my studies. I began taking piano lessons when I was 6.

What type of music did you listen to as a child, and what do you listen to now? As a kid I listened to classical music, non-stop. Now I listen to classical music, non-stop. It’s what makes me feel the most comfortable and at home. Every so often I might put on some j-pop [Japanese pop music] though.

You grew up in the Dallas area. What would surprise visitors about Dallas? What’s your “hidden gem” in Dallas? I’m not sure what would really surprise people about Dallas, except that very few people who live here have Texan accents. At least that’s what people always seem to be surprised about when they find out I’m from Texas! But my “hidden gem” in Dallas would probably be the Bishop Arts District, or some of the many amazing coffee shops such as Mudsmith, Pearl Cup, or 1418 Coffeehouse. I really like coffee. And pie. Go to Emporium Pies!

It’s not unusual to hear of humorous stereotypes for certain musicians and their instruments in an orchestra. What’s a typical violinist like? I think a lot of us are very “high-strung.” I know that’s true for me though I combat it as much as possible. We’re also extremely analytical in and out of music, which can be annoying at times (because our brains can’t ever turn off), but does definitely have its benefits — especially when you want to make sure something is done right the first time.

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? Probably Prokofiev and Shostakovich for both.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? My favorite sound is rain, and my least favorite is the sound of people chewing.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? Definitely a recital by my late violin teacher, Arkady Fomin.


2017 Basically Beethoven Festival announced

37th annual series presents students, professional musicians in free concerts

2017 BBF logo w datesFine Arts Chamber Players will present the 2017 Basically Beethoven Festival on Sunday afternoons in July. Held at Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District, every program starts with a Rising Star Recital at 2:30 pm followed by a Feature Performance at 3 pm. Rising Star Recitals present local, gifted young musicians; Feature Performances showcase professional musicians from the area. All concerts are FREE. Details on each afternoon can be found HERE.

“Classical music is the most diverse form of western music, spanning centuries and continents,” explained Basically Beethoven Festival Director Alex McDonald. “Anything can be expressed in beautiful, profound ways: from love to loss, patriotism and exile, thoughtfulness to abandon. This year’s Festival will bring together as many of these different threads as possible. In addition to Beethoven, we will feature several living composers whose voices speak both eloquently and powerfully to our own time.”

McDonald added, “Something I’m particularly excited about this year is our Rising Stars, who represent part of the future of classical music. In the past, we have always used a young soloist with an adult accompanist, but this year we are presenting collaborative duos: two young artists performing together. Some of our performers are only 14 years old and have already played all over the world!”


OVERVIEW: Basically Beethoven Festival 2017

  • Sundays in July
  • July 9, Dances & Romances 
  • July 16, A Spirited Afternoon
  • July 23, Stephen Nielson and friends
  • July 30, Americana!
  • Rising Star Recital at 2:30 pm; Feature Performance at 3 pm; Doors open at 2 pm
  • Dallas City Performance Hall: 2520 Flora Street, Dallas 75201
  • As always, Festival concerts are FREE for all. Paid parking is available in surface lots and garages in the Dallas Arts District. Families with children are welcome. For questions, call 214-520-2219 or email music@fineartschamberplayers.org.

2017 Internship

FACP seeks intern through ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program

FACP is now accepting applications for Assistant Festival Director of the 37th annual Basically Beethoven Festival, a paid summer internship position for current undergraduate college students. The Assistant Festival Director oversees major administrative elements of the Festival, including artist relations and event management. Experience in music or arts administration discipline preferred. The dates of the internship are June 5 through July 30, 2017; more details can be found here or below.

Interested college students should email their cover letter and résumé to Executive Director Rachel Assi at rachel@fineartschamberplayers.orgdeadline to apply is April 12.  Eligible students must be an undergraduate returning to college as a full-time (minimum 12 credit hours per semester) sophomore, junior, or senior student in the fall of 2017

ExxonMobil_CSJP logoThe internship is made possible through a grant from the ExxonMobil
Foundation. The ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program provides full-time college students with an eight-week paid internship to gain experience in the nonprofit sector.

https://www.fineartschamberplayers.org/intern-flyer/


Dallas Arts District Foundation supports FACP for over 20 years

dalartsWe are honored to be awarded a grant from Dallas Arts District Foundation for our free concerts performed in the heart of Dallas. Fine Arts Chamber Players is grateful for our decades-long relationship with the Foundation, and appreciates their continued support of our Bancroft Family Concert series and our Beethoven Basically Festival.

The Foundation’s work to make the Arts District available for everyone goes hand-in-hand with FACP’s free classical music offerings in the Dallas Museum of Art and Dallas City Performance Hall. Learn more about the Foundation here.

Congratulations to the other grant awardees:

Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico

Bruce Wood Dance Project

Color Me Empowered

Crow Collection of Asian Art

Dallas Black Dance Theatre

Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture

Dallas Symphony Association

Junior Players Guild

Lone Star Wind Orchestra

Shakespeare Dallas

Bishop Arts Theatre Center

The Black Academy of Arts and Letters

The Dallas Opera


Basically Beethoven Festival Director

Alex McDonald Appointed Director of Basically Beethoven Festival

Pianist serves as the second leader in program’s history

The Board of Directors for Fine Arts Chamber Players gladly announces that Dr. Alex McDonald has been named Festival Director for the annual Basically Beethoven Festival. McDonald served as Guest Festival Director for the 2016 Festival, the organization’s 36th undertaking of the event.

“We are thrilled to have Alex McDonald on board as our new Basically Beethoven Festival Director,” said Celeste Yeager, board president for FACP. “He has boundless capability to grow a community of classical music enthusiasts. His vision to make the Basically Beethoven Festival intriguing and entertaining for both experienced concertgoers and new audience members aligns perfectly with FACP’s mission.”

Executive Director Rachel Assi; Festival Director Alex McDonald; and 2016 ExxonMobil CSJP intern Carnell Simmons

Executive Director Rachel Assi; Festival Director Alex McDonald; and 2016 ExxonMobil CSJP intern Carnell Simmons

Dr. McDonald added, “I am delighted to continue as the director of the Basically Beethoven Festival. It is a tremendous honor to connect our region’s world-class artists with our enthusiastic audience and the timeless repertoire of Beethoven and beyond.”

The Basically Beethoven Festival was the inaugural program Co-Founder and Artistic Director Rogene Russell created to launch FACP as a professional performing arts group in 1981. Russell is the only other person who has served as the Festival Director leading BBF for the first 35 years, and fully supports McDonald’s new role.

“If the summer of 2016 was a sample of what Alex can produce, our Basically Beethoven audience will be enthralled by his fresh ideas and new musical insights,” Russell said. “In addition to his innovative programming, Alex is a consummate performer attending to every detail. Hurrah for the future of Basically Beethoven!”

Yeager, summing up the sentiments of the entire Board and staff, expressed, “Alex demonstrated superb artistry during the 2016 Festival through his selection of both artists and works, including his own arrangement of Stravinsky’s Firebird. We are excited to be able to showcase Alex’s talents and anxiously await 2017.”


Dr. Alex McDonald

Now Hear This: An Interview with Alex McDonald

Dr. Alex McDonald

Dr. Alex McDonald

Accomplished pianist and educator Dr. Alex McDonald served at the Guest Festival Director for the 2016 Basically Beethoven Festival. He programmed the concerts, finding the right mix of performers and pieces to offer to our audiences this summer, and performed at the July 17 “Menagerie” concert. You may have heard him speak at the concert or met him in the lobby, but here’s an opportunity to get to know him better with our Q&A series.

What piece were you most excited to hear performed during the 2016 Basically Beethoven Festival, and why? Well, to be totally honest, I was really curious how the Stravinsky would turn out. [Dr. McDonald arranged Firebird Suite for three pianos, performed at the July 17 concert.] It was a fun experience having such world-class pianists join me on the stage and commit so wholeheartedly to the project. I’m extremely excited to hear the Schubert cello quintet this weekend. It is one of the master’s very last compositions, and many consider it to be his greatest chamber piece. The second theme of the first movement is absolutely out of this world, and I can’t wait to hear it in Dallas City Performance Hall, which is acoustically an absolute gem.

What do you love about chamber music? How is it different from playing in a symphony? From playing solo? Chamber music is wonderful in that you can communicate with each musician. With concertos (which I love!), I find I communicate mainly with the conductor, and when I play solo, I end up just talking to myself, which I do anyways! I love the intersection of different musicians’ musical personalities, as well as the unique timbres of the instruments.

How old were you when you started playing piano? Why did you choose piano? I was almost 5! My mom chose it for me. She is a piano teacher, and I would build train tracks under the piano as a toddler. Or so I am told (I don’t really remember).

Am I seeing things, or do you use an iPad instead of sheet music? Why the change? I do use an iPad! I love that I can keep tons of scores on it, and I also like the Bluetooth page turner pedal that I can take with me and practice with. I’ve had some pretty funny and regrettable page-turning experiences (once my page-turner’s necktie was casually hanging out on the lower keys, and I was wondering how to navigate around it).

What type of music did you listen to as a kid? Have you always listened to classical music? I have always loved classical. I also listed to a fair amount of ’90s contemporary Christian music – I’m talking about Michael W. Smith. I think that’s why I tend to be so cheesy now! These days, I love listening to Bach cantatas, Nora Jones (my wife, Rachel, has it on in the car), or sometimes perusing whatever is a “latest hit.” I do enjoy mainstream pop. That way, when a passage in classical music gets difficult, I can “shake it off.”

What types of music do you like to share with your son? Well!! As of today, my son is 2 months and 9 days! He’s pretty non-discriminating at this point, although I did notice that he was decidedly happier when I practiced Schubert than Rimsky-Korsakov. I guess I’m proud of him for that! He is also rather fond of “the diaper song,” which naturally accompanies one of the less glorious parts of parenting.

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? That’s a hard question! I really have always loved Liszt, but I think Rachmaninoff would have to be a strong favorite—after it’s comfortably in my fingers, of course! I really love listening to and playing Bach.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? I like the sound of a full symphony orchestra, in all its various combinations. My least favorite – I guess I’m not too fond of sprechstimme.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? John Cage’s 4’33”?? (Just kidding.) I think I would most want to hear Bach’s Et resurrexit, or maybe the slow movement to Rachmaninoff concerto no. 2.


Basically Beethoven Festival 2016: Nocturnal Scenes

Final Concert for Basically Beethoven Festival paints dreamy images

On July 31, Fine Arts Chamber Players presents its final, FREE concert of the 36th annual Basically Beethoven Festival. Titled “Nocturnal Scenes,” the performance will feature Dallas Symphony Orchestra members Shu Lee and Kaori Yoshida, violin; Valerie Dimond, viola; and Nan Zhang, cello; with cellist Shuyi Wang from the National Ballet of China Symphony Orchestra. The artists will perform Eine Kleine Nachtmusik “Serenade” No.13 for strings in G, K.525 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Schubert’s Cello quintet in C Major, op.163, D.956. The afternoon begins with a Rising Star Recital featuring Jason Zhu, first prize winner of the 2015 MTNA Junior Piano Performance National Competition, and Jason Lin, winner of the prestigious 2015 Lynn Harrell Concerto competition. The program includes Claude Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse and Carl Vine’s Sonata No.1 mvt. 1. Together, they will play Franz Schubert’s March Militaire and Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dance no. 4 for 4 hands.

“Nocturnal Scenes” will be an exciting end to this year’s Festival. Concerts are held on Sunday afternoons in July at the Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District (2520 Flora Street, Dallas 75201). Every program begins with a Rising Star Recital at 2:30 p.m. and a Feature Performance at 3 p.m. Doors open at 2 p.m. Rising Star Recitals present local, gifted young musicians; Feature Performances showcase professional musicians from the area. All concerts are FREE TO THE PUBLIC. Paid parking is available in surface lots and garages in the Dallas Arts District.

Overview – Basically Beethoven Festival 2016

  • Sundays in July: July 10, 17, 24, and 31.
  • Doors open at 2 p.m.; Rising Star Recital at 2:30 p.m.; Feature Performance at 3 p.m.
  • Dallas City Performance Hall: 2520 Flora Street, Dallas 75201.
  • Families with children are welcome.

Overview – July 31, Nocturnal Scenes

  • Final concert of the Basically Beethoven Festival 2016.
  • Rising Star Recital: Jason Zhu and Jason Lin perform solo work by Vine and Debussy, and piano duos by Schubert and Brahms.
  • Feature Performance: A string quintet featuring performers from Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the National Ballet of China Symphony Orchestra paint scenes of the night with Mozart and Schubert.